Sunday, December 27, 2009

Update on October White House protest

My appointment with the court for arraignment was October 27th. I did not go to court because I had signed a letter authorizing an attorney to enter a not-guilty plea on my behalf. As it turned out, charges against all participants in the October 5th action were dismissed by a judge in the D.C. Superior Court.
So, unlike the war in Afghanistan, which seems to go on and on forever, my legal case ended swiftly.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Orange Jumpsuit Brigade

On October 5th, I was dressed fashionably in an orange jumpsuit and a black hood. OK, fashionably for Halloween maybe. The jumpsuit, which I put on over all of my clothes and jacket, made me look like a rather large pumpkin with a stem.
Well, my pumpkinlike appearance was one of the few amusing parts of my experience, which took me from the Supreme Court to McPherson Square to the White House to the U.S. Park Police station at Anacostia (southeast Washington, D.C.). The other amusing part of the experience was Team Torture. This was made up of several people dressed in striped prison uniforms and large heads. The large heads included George W. Bush, Condoleeza Rice, and Dick Cheney. All of them were wearing baseball caps, but don't think that any of them are ready to play in the World's Series! But they were ready to meet and greet their fans, with Team Torture trading cards, including a rookie card for Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld!
These cards make great collector's items and stocking stuffers for the person on your Christmas list who already has everything.
Once Team Torture had finished meeting and greeting fans outside of the Supreme Court, where Sonia Sotomayor was waiting to complete her first first day in her new Big Government Job, the Orange Jumpsuit Brigade marched away. As we were led away, Dick Cheney gave us two thumbs up! I wonder if he gave two thumbs up to the real detainees.
We marched in pairs from the Supreme Court to McPherson Square. We must have been a very odd sight... a long line of people, all dressed in orange jumpsuits and black hoods. Perhaps people in Washington, D.C., are used to that odd sight. It was kind of a long walk to accomplish when your vision is obscured. Fortunately, there were people to warn us when to step onto a curb and when to step down from a curb.
At McPherson Square, the orange jumpsuit brigade could relax a little and remove the black hoods. We heard speeches and poetry and music from a variety of people, including Emma's Revolution. Emma's Revolution sang "Peace Salaam Shalom" and "One" (about the School of the Americas) and another song (I forgot the title). It helped that the sun was shining and that it was a pretty autumn day. I also enjoyed seeing some of my friends from this past August's Walk for Peace from Camp Douglas to Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, including Joy First, Jennifer First, Kathy Kelly, Gerald Paoli, and Joshua Brollier.
At about noon, we had to put our black hoods back on for the march to the White House. We marched right up to the sidewalk. This time, we were lined up with four persons to each row. Before long, we were at the fence. Some of us were able to chain ourselves to the White House fence while others were thwarted by cops, who seemed to be ready for us.
Names of the dead were read out loud. These included U.S. servicemembers, Afghans, Iraqis, and Pakistanis. We called for the dead to be mourned, the wounded to be healed, and the wars to end. Some people tried to deliver a letter to the president at the press gate but, I was told later, the Not-Very-Secret Service forcefully removed the protesters. So much for the first amendment... you know, that part that says that all citizens have a right to seek a redress of grievances from their elected officials...
Well, those of us in the "picture postcard zone" didn't really get much of a chance to seek a redress of grievances, either. Sixty-one of us were arrested and handcuffed with those truly uncomfortable plastic straps. We were thoroughly and less than gently patted down and were driven (in an air conditioned bus!) to the Anacostia police station, where we were ticketed and released.
We actually had to return to the police station the next day to finish our processing and to be given our court dates.
More later.

October lobby day

At eight o'clock in the morning, on October 7th, I joined a group from SOA Watch to stand vigil outside of the Capitol South metro station. The picture here was actually taken during a similar vigil in 2008. I posted this photograph because, during this vigil, I was at one end of the banner that is pictured here, and I didn't have hands for photography.
We stayed at the metro station for a little more than an hour. Some of the people who were heading to work or to lobby at Congressional offices took our brochures and postcards; others did not. I very much appreciate the time that those who stopped to speak with us so early in the day. I know that some of them probably haven't had their morning coffee yet. Not everyone is a cheerful morning person!
After standing vigil at the metro station and watching the hordes of people walk toward their destination, I went to the Rayburn House Office Building to do a little lobbying. In the course of about two hours, I visited fourteen offices, including the office of my own representative in Congress, Louise Slaughter. I talked mainly to receptionists as most of the foreign policy aides were either in meetings or on conference calls. I left information with the receptionists for the foreign policy aides on HR 2567, Rep. Jim McGovern's legislation to suspend operations of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (formerly called the School of the Americas) and to investigate that military training school. You can find more information about the legislation at
Visiting Congressional offices is always a good experience. I got two copies of the U.S. Constitution, candies, peanuts, and lots of chances to use hand sanitizer. In fact, in the Rayburn House Office Building, there are hand sanitizer stations conveniently located in the hallways. The hand sanitizer stations work automatically, just by sensing that hands are ready for the fluid. When I left the Rayburn House Office Building, my hands felt very clean.
OK, well, it's good to clean hands to avoid those nasty flu viruses.
At the same time, let's clean up U.S. foreign policy. Call your Congressional representative's office today and ask him or her to co-sponsor HR 2567.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

two-year anniversary

On September 19, 2007, I was released from the federal prison camp in Danbury, Connecticut, after completing a six-month sentence. Since that date, the world has spun around the sun two times. In these two years, I have walked hundreds of miles. I have continued to say yes to life and to human rights and no to torture and assassination and war. I have crossed the line twice at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, to say enough is enough. It's time to bring the troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan. The National Guard members, who have been deployed over and over again, are needed at home, not overseas. Their families and their communities need them.
In a few weeks, I am going to Washington, D.C., to participate in a civil resistance action at the White House. It is scheduled by the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance for October 5th, the eighth anniversary of the start of the Afghanistan war. Please join me there. You can sign up for that action by going to
Enjoy the sunlight and the late summer colors and I'll write more later.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Speaking out against torture

(photographs: The one with the man in the orange jumpsuit and the black hood is a depiction of a Guantanamo inmate. The people in the photograph (with the exception of the child) are all torture survivors. They include Sister Dianna Ortiz, a Ursuline who was brutally tortured while serving as a missionary teacher in Guatemala, and Mirna Anaya, a torture survivor who is now a member of the Supreme Court of El Salvador)

At the end of June, the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition (TASSC) held its annual Survivors week in Washington, D.C. Events that occurred during the week included a conference, held at Catholic University, titled "Torture Never Again," and a 24-hour vigil, held in Lafayette Park, across the street from the White House.
I attended a morning session of the conference at Catholic University and heard from several speakers, including Jennifer Harbury (the widow of Efrain Bamaca Velasquez, a Mayan resistance leader, who was captured by Guatemalan military, tortured, and then killed extra-judicially in the early 1990s), Father Roy Bourgeois, and Catherine Grosso, assistant professor of law at Michigan State University College of Law. Also we had one speaker named Colleen. (I don't know her last name or anything more about her.)
Here is some information that was offered at the conference:
According to Colleen, on the issues of torture and extraordinary rendition, Human Rights USA, TASSC, and other organizations have been working on putting together a criminal complaint to hold former officials, chiefly in the Bush administration, accountable for their actions. There is a Spanish court that may try to charge U.S. officials. This can only occur if the United States does not object. The alleged culprits must travel to Spain on their own. They will not be extradited to Spain to face justice.
Catherine defined torture as ill treatment. Examples of torture include holding a person in isolation or solitary confinement for long periods of time. She talked about Supreme Court cases concerning torture. She described a 1936 case involving a man named Ed Brown and a few others. These individuals were stripped and beaten by police. They were forced to confess to crimes. The state of Mississippi said that the federal constitution had no place in a state court. The Supreme Court said otherwise. It said that the interrogation of Mr. Brown and the other men violated basic basic principles and that evidence obtained by torture cannot be used in court. "It (torture) violates who we are as a nation." In an earlier case (1897), a man named Mr. Ram was forced to strip. He was never touched. He was told that he committed a crime. Mr. Ram ended up by confessing to the crimes because he was humiliated. The Supreme Court ruled that the confession was not voluntary, that the man was the victim of coercion.
These days, Catherine said, we have the issue of different standards being applied to Americans and people whom are termed to be "terrorists" and "enemy combatants." During the Bush administration, we had policy and practice that "chipped away at the ban on torture." This ban includes federal law against torture and an international convention against torture that was signed by President Ronald Reagan.
Although the Bush administration is now history, the current Obama administration has done little to investigate alleged abuses. Catherine said that President Obama "articulated that the Bush policy violated standards. He has not investigated. His silence speaks volumes." Catherine does not exempt Congress from criticism. She said "Congress has done nothing."
Jennifer said that we will not be "cured" of the scourge of torture with a few trials of former administration officials. "It is naive to think that it started with 9/11 and George W. Bush." She said that Americans have been involved in torture for years, either in the role of advisors or even supervisors. "We can't fix this problem unless we deal with the crimes."
The crimes of torture, Jennifer charges, include crimes against civilian populations. These civilian populations include people who have been termed "insurgents." This is a very loose term. In Latin America, for example, during the "dirty wars" and the various civil wars, the term "insurgents" frequently included priests, nuns, labor union organizers, teachers, journalists, and anyone who criticized their governments.
Jennifer talked about a common excuse that torturers use for abusing their victims, the "ticking bomb." She explained that torture doesn't work in that situation. "When people are tortured, they say anything. There was one guy who claimed to be Osama bin Laden's driver." (Apparently, Osama bin Laden never rode in this guy's car and, who knows... maybe the guy didn't even have a car...) According to Jennifer, in basic training, military types are taught to compartmentalize information. "You don't have the information unless you need to know it." So the information about where the ticking bomb would be located would not be shared with hordes of people. If the wrong person is grabbed and then tortured, well guess what happens? That person will say anything to get the pain to stop. He'll say where the ticking bomb is. Then, the bomb disposal squad will go to the wrong place because, of course, that person doesn't actually know where the bomb is. While the bomb disposal squad is looking for the nonexistent incendiary, the real bomb will go Ka-boom!
Jennifer said that the U.S. government resorted to torture because it was afraid. "Fear is deeply ingrained in the United States," she said, adding "Torture does not gain us security."
Father Roy talked about his experiences of having been in Vietnam as a Naval officer and in Bolivia as a Maryknoll missionary priest. He said that in Vietnam, "it was common knowledge that torture was policy." He said that pilots bragged about how easy it was to get information.
In Bolivia, under the dictator Hugo Banzar, torture was common. Father Roy said that he visited prisoners and documented the torture. He brought the information to Washington to try to get the U.S. government to put an end to it. Shortly afterwards, he was forced out of Bolivia. He then went to El Salvador. In November 1989, six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her daughter were massacred by military. Those Jesuit priests had been friends of Father Roy's. Father Roy discovered that the United States trained the assassins at a school called the School of the Americas.
Shortly after the massacre, Father Roy formed an organization called "School of the Americas Watch." In November 1990, nine persons fasted at the gates of Fort Benning. By November 2008, more than 20,000 persons gathered at the gates of Fort Benning.
"We want the school of torture closed down," Father Roy stated.
Father Roy said that training manuals were discovered in 1996. These training manuals give detailed instruction to the military on how to torture people. These manuals got the attention of Congress.
Currently, the School of the Americas Watch continues to work for accountability. Father Roy said that SOA Watch uses several approaches to achieving this goal. One is the Latin American initiative. Representatives of SOA Watch have gone to 15 Latin American countries and have spoken to leaders, including six presidents, to ask them to withdraw troops from the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (the new name for the School of the Americas). Father Roy stated that there is a "sea change taking place in Latin America and that there is great hope."
Unfortunately, a few days after this conference, there was a coup d'etat in Honduras and the democratically elected president was forced out of the country in his pajamas.
The School of the Americas Watch is also working to get legislation passed. The current legislation, proposed by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Massachusetts) is HR 2567, the Latin America Military Training Review Act of 2009.
"There will never be healing and reconciliation unless there is acknowledgement of crimes and torture."
During the question and answer session that followed, torture survivors from all over the world talked about change that they wanted to see and their feelings about the current realities throughout the world.
Grace from Uganda talked about her cry. She said that many opposition leaders are rotting in cells. Government leaders in the UN Security Council do not talk about that, she said. "I am going through hell," she said. "No one is on the ground watching. This is my cry!"
A man from West Africa said that the United States is trying to found an SOA-type school in Africa.
An Iranian woman said that young people are tortured in the streets in Iran. "They want democracy. They are not terrorists."
And one person said, "Bush encouraged torture. Thousands were in prison. Many died. No one talks about them. They just want freedom. (President Barack) Obama is our last chance."

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Father Roy Bourgeois

"You don't teach democracy out of the barrel of a gun."
The Buffalo Common Council declared March 14th to be Father Roy Bourgeois Day in Buffalo. The Erie County Legislature also issued a proclamation in Father Roy's honor.
Father Roy Bourgeois was presented with those proclamations on March 14th, when he came to Daemen College to speak about SOA/WHINSEC and about other issues of war, peace, and justice.
Father Roy talked about his own life experiences, first as a young man in Louisiana, who studied geology and had hopes of becoming rich in the oil fields of Latin America. His sense of patriotism then caused him to go into the U.S. Navy as an officer. He volunteered for shore duty in Vietnam, where he witnessed the devastation of war. In an interview that I had with Father Roy back in 2001, he told me that volunteering to help at an orphanage in Vietnam changed his life. He came to the conclusion that God was calling him to be a missionary. After Father Roy left the military, he enrolled in the Maryknoll seminary near Ossining, New York. He was ordained as a Maryknoll priest in 1972 and was then sent to serve in Bolivia.
Father Roy said that he was shocked by what he saw in Bolivia:
"The men with the guns ran the country." Those gunmen were under the command of dictator Hugo Banzar Suarez, who had support from the U.S. government.
He said, however, that the poor people, with whom he worked, did not give up hope in the face of these seemingly insurmountable obstacles. "The poor became our teachers," he said.
His missionary work did not win him any points with the Powers that Be in Bolivia. Because of his work with Bolivia's human rights commission, he was arrested and was later forced out of Bolivia.
His next mission was in El Salvador. This Vietnam veteran could not believe the conditions in El Salvador in the late 1970s. "I've never seen anything like El Salvador. It was the slaughter of the innocents," Father Roy said.
When Father Roy came back to the United States, he learned that the Salvadoran troops, many of whom had been involved in such incidents as the El Mozote massacre, in which 900 men, women, and children in one village were massacred, were coming to the United States to be trained in military tactics. In fact, Father Roy said, 500 troops had come to Fort Benning, Georgia, for training in the early 1980s. When Father Roy realized what was happening, he organized a protest right in front of the Salvadoran barracks at Fort Benning. With two others, he walked onto the grounds of Fort Benning, dressed as high ranking officers. They were saluted! At night, they climbed a tree just outside of the Salvadoran barracks. When the lights in the barracks went out, Father Roy turned on a boom box, set to top volume to play Archbishop Oscar Romero's last homily. The lights in the barracks went on again and military police were called.
When military police arrived, the three intrepid protesters were ordered to get out of the tree or get shot.
The protesters got out of the tree and were taken to the Muscogee County Jail. Eventually, they were tried and sentenced to federal prison.
That protest, however, apparently had nothing to do with the School of the Americas.
At the time, very few people knew about the existence of the School of the Americas. Those few people were mostly Panamanians.
The School of the Americas had been established as a cold war school to train Latin American troops to fight against the "Communist menace" back in 1946. It was placed in the Panama Canal Zone. Eventually, Panamanians referred to the school as "la escuela de los golpes" (the school of coups) and "la escuela de los assessinos." Some of the coups that the Panamanians were referring to occurred in the Dominican Republic and Guatemala in the early 1950s and in Chile on September 11th, 1973. When President Jimmy Carter renegotiated the Panama Canal treaties back in the late 1980s, one of the issues that could not be resolved was the continuation of the SOA in Panama.
The SOA was kicked out of Panama and was reopened at Fort Benning, Georgia, in 1984.
In 1989, an event occurred in El Salvador that resulted in shock and horror and Congressional attention to U.S. military policy in Latin America. This event was the massacre of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her daughter. Many members of Congress had attended Jesuit schools, so they were shocked and horrified to find out that six Jesuits, who had worked at the University of Central America, were killed by Salvadoran military, funded by the U.S. government.
It didn't take long before the existence of the SOA became known. The connection was made for many, including Father Roy, between military training and massacres when a Congressional panel reported that, of the 27 killers involved in the massacre of the Jesuits and their co-workers, 19 of them were SOA graduates. In 1990, Father Roy Bourgeois founded the School of the Americas Watch and moved into an apartment across the street from Fort Benning's main gates.
Over the years, SOA Watch grew from a small group of people who protested and fasted at Fort Benning's main gate to a large movement that holds annual protests at Fort Benning and lobbies Congress to close the school, which has since been renamed "the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation." Father Roy has referred to these protests as "poking the beehive."
The bees don't like that, and they tend to sting. Over the years, many people have been arrested on the grounds of Fort Benning, have been charged with trespass, and have been sentenced to federal prison, probation, or house arrest.
The movement to close the school has been working hard over the years to encourage Congress to close the school through legislative action. A number of bills have been introduced to Congress to close the school, first by Rep. Moakley of Massachusetts and later by Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts.
The current bill, introduced last month, is HR 2567 and is titled the Latin America Military Training Review Act.
Father Roy also talked about work that SOA Watch is doing to encourage governmental leaders in Latin America to stop sending troops to the school in hopes that, if there is no demand for the school, it will have to close down, due to lack of interest. So far, the following countries have stopped sending troops to the school: Venezuela, Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, and El Salvador.
"There is a sea change taking place in Latin America," Father Roy said. "A lot of the fear that was alive in those countries has been replaced by hope."
When Father Roy is not speaking on behalf of SOA Watch or working on closing the School of the Americas (in his copious free time), he travels. He has been to Iran and Iraq.
"War destroys hope," said Father Roy, who has been involved in the movement to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan said.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Alice's court statement

On August 10, as a part of the Witness Against War walk, thirteen of us attempted to walk onto the grounds of Fort McCoy, located near Sparta, Wisconsin. We were hoping to speak to the National Guard troops who are trained at Fort McCoy. We were also hoping to give them a letter to let them know that the government's authorization to deploy the National Guard (the war powers resolution of 2002) has expired and was not renewed.
During the walk, I had met many people whose loved ones, members of the Wisconsin National Guard, had been deployed over and over again. This is very hard on the members of the National Guard and on their family, friends, co-workers, and employers. Those encounters spurred me to choose to go onto the grounds of Fort McCoy and speak with the soldiers, as someone who wanted the best for them.

I feel that the National Guard is needed at home. During times of natural disaster, it is the National Guard that we call on to take care of our needs.

When the thirteen of us arrived at the main gate of Fort McCoy, we were met by police, who told us not to pass a barrier that they had established. We did pass the barrier and we were arrested and charged with trespass. Shortly after we were processed, we were issued tickets and were released.

On January 12th, we had our trial before Magistrate Judge Stephen Crocker in Madison, Wisconsin. We each had a chance to speak our piece... peace... and were found guilty and fined $75 each.

Below is a copy of my court statement:

Since I returned to Western New York in September after completing the 500-mile Witness Against War walk from Chicago to Saint Paul, Minnesota, I have continued to walk nearly every day. I have walked along the Niagara River and through the City of Buffalo. I walk through two state parks in Grand Island, the town where I live.

I walk for exercise and to find interesting things to photograph for the Grand Island Dispatch. I work as a freelance photographer and reporter for that newspaper.

Sometimes on my walks, I see parents walking or riding on bicycles with their kids. I see people catching fish, or at least trying to. I see people walking dogs. I see people jogging in all kinds of weather, even in snow and wind. During my weekday walks, I see kids returning home from school. I see kids playing on the slides and climbing equipment at the nearby playground.

In other words, I experience normal every day life on my walks.

Last summer, I had similar experiences. I saw bicyclists and joggers and kids going to summer school.

But a few incidents served to remind me that the lives of many of our friends and neighbors are far from normal. One of those incidents occurred in Jefferson, early in the morning, as we were starting our day’s walk. We could see the kids heading off to summer school. We crossed a street near the school. A crossing guard spotted us and our banner. She went to the middle of the street to help us. As I passed her, she turned to me and said, “I support what you do. My son is in Iraq for the fifth time. I just want him to come home.”

In another town, we were at a church for a potluck dinner. A woman there looked at me, wanting to talk. I could see sadness in her eyes and feel heartbreak in her voice as she told me that her son had been killed in Iraq.

I heard about police departments that were short staffed because so many of the officers were also members of the National Guard, who had been deployed overseas.

The normal every day life that I saw as I walked was nowhere near as normal as it appeared.

When I heard the sadness and longing that people had for their absent family members, friends, and co-workers, I had to wonder why the normal every day lives of these communities was being disrupted and destroyed. Why have National Guard troops been deployed over and over again, far away from home and from the families and communities that need them? Why are National Guard troops continuing to be deployed to Iraq, even though the War Powers resolution of 2002, which gave the Bush administration the authority to deploy the National Guard, has expired and was not renewed.

On August 10, 2008, I went with a group to the gates of Fort McCoy to talk to the troops, to tell them that they were needed at home to do the work that the National Guard is meant to do, especially disaster relief. I had a letter to give them that offered details of alternatives to deployment for them. I never spoke to a single soldier. We were arrested before we could speak to the soldiers or to give them our letters.

I felt that my presence that day at Fort McCoy was necessary. I did not feel that I did anything that could be described as illegal. I felt that I was simply exercising my first-amendment right of free speech. On the other hand, I did perceive the government as violating the law, by continuing to deploy National Guard troops after the authorization to deploy them has expired.

It is time for National Guard troops to come home. They are needed here. I hope that my presence at Fort McCoy on August 10th helped to serve as a reminder that our National Guard troops are needed at home, even though I never had a chance to speak to the soldiers.

When the deployments finally end, the National Guard troops and their families and communities will be able to start healing and, eventually, will be able to return to their normal, every day lives.